Hydrocephalus: The Basics
Hydrocephalus is an excess accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) caused by the widening of spaces in the brain (ventricles). Excess CSF can lead to harmful pressure on the brain tissue, and fetal hydrocephalus is especially important to address to ensure the health of both mother and baby.
The Center for Maternal Fetal Health is home of pediatric and neonatal specialists with years of experience in fetal hydrocephalus, and has both the staff and facility support of Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Center to treat this neurological condition.
Fetal Hydrocephalus Causes
When a child is diagnosed with hydrocephalus, many parents ask if hydrocephalus is hereditary or caused by external factors. Fetal hydrocephalus can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Congenital reasons
- Events that occur during fetal development
- Genetic abnormalities
Consequences of a Dandy Walker Malformation can also lead to hydrocephalus. For more information on this condition, click here.
Fetal Hydrocephalus Diagnosis
While hydrocephalus is most often diagnosed post-birth after a child or adult presents a number of symptoms associated with neurological concerns, fetal hydrocephalous can be diagnosed with an ultrasound and CT scan.
Because your child’s brain development is absolutely crucial in the womb, doctors may perform a number of tests to confirm a hydrocephalus diagnosis by identifying enlarged ventricles through which CSF is flowing.
Hydrocephalus Treatment: What to Expect
Determining the proper fetal hydrocephalus treatment depends on your child’s specific type of hydrocephalus. During pregnancy, the main treatment method for fetal hydrocephalus is careful observation. Your physician will closely monitor whether your baby shows signs of distress that necessitate a conversation about early delivery.
After your baby is born in a neonatal intensive care unit, doctors will perform a number of tests and imaging studies (ultrasound, CT, MRI) to determine what hydrocephalus treatments to pursue. If an excess amount of CSF is still present after birth, doctors may consider surgically inserting a shunt system to help drain the CSF to another part of the body.
A flexible plastic tube is inserted with the help of a catheter and valve and placed either in ventricle in the brain or outside the spinal cord. A decreased amount of CSF in the brain post-shunt insertion can then allow proper brain development following fetal hydrocephalus.
Life After Fetal Hydrocephalus
Because a prenatal baby’s brain and skull are still developing, the baby can handle a certain amount of CSF buildup without fetal hydrocephalus becoming a concern. However, if it continues, untreated fetal hydrocephalus can cause irreversible brain damage; this is why calculated, proper treatment is absolutely essential.
Impaired cognitive and physical development is a possibility in children with fetal hydrocephalus, and close monitoring by a neurologist is important throughout childhood. For many children with fetal hydrocephalus, diligent rehabilitation therapies throughout childhood can have significant benefits to their long-term prognosis.
Each case is unique, but early diagnosis and proper treatment can drastically improve the chances of a proper recovery after fetal hydrocephalus.